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Gasol is the headliner of a nice hot streak by Gar-Pax

Coach Tom Thibodeau knew the Bulls were getting something special when he found out forward Pau Gasol was going to sign a free-agent contract to join the Bulls last summer.

Perhaps not as special as the career-high 46 points Gasol scored Saturday against the Milwaukee Bucks, but big things nonetheless.

Thibodeau said he had a good feeling about Gasol, especially

after speaking with him before the World Cup of Basketball.

‘‘You could tell how highly

motivated he was for not only the [World Cup], but whatever was next,’’ Thibodeau said. ‘‘I think the summer was great for him. Right after he signed with us, he was looking forward to double sessions with Spain [in preparation for the World Cup]. There aren’t many guys that are like that, that are at his stage of his career — as accomplished as he is — and eager to go.

‘‘When you watched him play, you could see how motivated he was. I think he was in a great place coming in [to Bulls camp]. He had a great training camp, works

incredibly hard, never takes a day off and has a great understanding of what it takes.’’

Two championship rings and 14 seasons in the NBA usually bring an ‘‘understanding’’ that has

extreme value.

The addition of Gasol has been impressive in more ways than one. Not only has Gasol committed himself to his new teammates, but executive vice president John Paxson and general manager Gar Forman got him for a relative bargain.

Put it this way: The Bulls are paying Carlos Boozer $13.5 million this season to play for the Los

Angeles Lakers, while Gasol is making $7.1 million this season and $7.4 million next season. He also has a $7.7 million player

option for 2016-17.

It’s not the first time the Bulls’ front office has shown patience in building this roster, either:

◆ The decision about when to bring forward Nikola Mirotic over from Spain was perfect, especially considering how well he was playing in the Spanish league two years ago. Things fell into place last summer, when tension flared between Mirotic and his Real Madrid team. Plus, the Bulls had freed up some money by seeking amnesty on the final year of Boozer’s contract.

◆ The drafting of guard Marquis Teague didn’t work out. The Bulls selected him with the 29th overall pick in 2012 to back up Derrick Rose, but it quickly became apparent he wasn’t a Thibodeau type of player. After trading him to the Brooklyn Nets, Paxson and Forman provided Thibodeau with more experienced backups, such as Kirk Hinrich, D.J. Augustin and Aaron Brooks.

◆ The trade of forward Luol Deng last January was criticized, but it has worked out better than anyone could have guessed. Shooting guard Jimmy Butler has taken over many of Deng’s responsibilities and might have a higher ceiling than Deng had.

The bad news is that Butler will become a restricted free agent this summer after turning down the Bulls’ take-it-or-leave-it offer

in October. Teams such as the New York Knicks and Lakers

already are rumored to have him on their radar, so the Bulls will have to pay up to keep him.

Email: jcowley@suntimes.com

Twitter: @suntimes_hoops